Personal stories of anguish shared Wednesday in Belleville painted a grim picture of how Canada’s veterans and their families are falling through the cracks of a broken system.
It was the third of four town hall meetings being held across the county to address a disconnect within the process of the county’s elite access services for care through Veterans Affairs Canada.
Wednesday’s forum was hosted by Bay of Quinte MP and chairman of the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs Neil Ellis, aimed at gathering information on how the government can better serve those who give their lives for their country. The meeting asked seven questions to which attendees offered concerns, experiences and suggestions. Their feedback will be sent to Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr.
A good portion of the discussion surrounded around ‘Canada’s unsung heroes’ – military spouses and their experiences trying to navigate through the system.
Louise McFaul of Bloomfield told the crowd of about 50 how her experiences navigating through the system to access care for her husband, a medically retired member of the Canadian Forces has been nothing short of a 10-year nightmare. She told Quinte News her husband was injured during his tour and then diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder after he was released.
“I feel from my perspective, they could recognize my contributions as a caregiver of a medically retired member of the Canadian Forces, that they would provide me with services before I need them. I’ve found over the last decade, my difficulty that I’ve experienced comes from having to know that to ask for,” McFaul explained to the group. “I have to know the different options available to me, know who to ask, how to phrase it, what form to fill out, when to ask, when to phone, when to phone back, when you phone back again and who to write a letter to when no one returns my call.”
She went on to say that the system hasn’t evolved to catch up with society adding it was created to serve a veteran of another time. She explained the vets are no longer retirees. They are in their 20s, 30s and 40s with families and small children.
She said she doesn’t mind being the ‘squeaky wheel’ when it comes to standing up for her family but it’s taking its toll on her.
Sadly, veteran J.F. Kelley McLeod knows the fight all too well. The Belleville resident explained how he and a fellow group of veterans have been at odds with the federal government for years trying to get them to ban the use of mefloquine in the military.
In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration strengthened warnings about the pill used to both prevent and treat malaria. The drug has been linked to possible serious psychological side-effects including suicide. McLeod said like so many others he was given the drug during his tours in Somalia and Rwanda.
McLeod has been asked to be apart of a panel to speak to Minister Hehr.
He said for Veterans Affairs to change fundamentally they have to stop the denial in the process. “The process can be astronomical even for those whom are physically and mentally capable,” he added.
McLeod was one of many who said lifelong pensions need to be reinstated.
Minister Hehr has stated openly that they are working on public policy and it’s only a matter of time before the lifelong pensions are reinstated.
MP Ellis said the government has to be challenged to deliver on that promise. He said what he is hearing from vets is that some want a lump sum while others would prefer a hybrid mixture (lump sum with a pension.)
When it comes to better access to services for veterans and their families, Ellis said he was keen on a solution offered by Joseph Burke, National Representative, Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association that suggested an easily accessible database.
The public is still invited to email Ellis their concerns and suggestions on the questions until September 9. His email is: Neil.Ellis@parl.gc.ca